Pi Attitude Zone: Self-Gratification

Beware Of Falling Pianos

Our daily lives, we are constantly reminded, are fraught with hidden dangers, traps for the unwary, and things that go bump (or, worse, boom) in the night.  The more impressionable among us might be tempted to stay permanently in bed, since getting up in the morning clearly exposes us to levels of personal risk that no-one in their right mind would find acceptable.  (Not that the stay-in-bed solution is all that likely to work;  apparently after bicycles and lawnmowers, beds are the third most common pieces of equipment involved in serious personal accidents).

It’s a widely-repeated urban legend that people living in the West have a higher chance of being killed by a falling piano than being wiped out in a terrorist attack.  This may be true, though it’s probably unprovable.

But help is at hand.  Real chapter and verse on the daily dangers we face has now been published in the form of a new book, The Norm Chronicles, by a pair of keen statisticians with a talent for reportage.  They have invented a new metric for personal risk, based on the so-called MicroMort.  One MicroMort equates to the one-in-a-million daily chance that a citizen of Western Europe has of getting killed in a car crash.

The comparisons are morbidly fascinating.  Dangerous activities like producing babies expose women to about 120 MicroMorts.  Curiously, this turns out to be about as risky as a soldier who spent 60 hours in Afghanistan on active service during the Afghan war’s most dangerous phase.  War, however, now seems to be getting safer, with soldiers in Afghanistan currently facing about 47 MicroMorts a day.  A British bomber crewman flying missions during World War Two, by contrast, was up against 25,000 MicroMorts every time he took off in a plane.

After giving us a catalog of potential catastrophes, and our exact chances of dying from them, the authors then go on to explain how different activities lengthen or shorten our span upon this Earth.  A 20-minute jog earns you an extra hour of life, apparently – a pretty good deal, Pi would say.  Cigarettes are an obvious no-no, with a packet of 20 depriving the smoker of 35 minutes of life for each day he keeps lighting up.  Drinking alcohol is a tricky one:  the first daily drink seems to add about half an hour to the typical person’s life expectancy; but you’re better off stopping there, since every subsequent drink cuts your life by fifteen minutes.  (By that reckoning, three drinks a day would keep you on the lifespan equivalent of the static geostationary orbit.  Hmmmm).

Thanks to the marvelous variability of human attitudes – and appetites – there are of course no absolute rules here.  One man’s night-sweat is another man’s acceptable risk.  And as the self-indulgent English novelist Kingsley Amis once said, “No pleasure is worth giving up for the sake of two more years in a geriatric home”.

Pi couldn’t agree more.

Zone: Self-Gratification Country: Europe Product – Other